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Interview: David Banner Almost Gave Up On Life & Music Before He Created 'The God Box'

The artist explains how The God Box saved his career in music and, most importantly, his life.  

God is great for an array of reasons but for David Banner, he/she/it is more of a life coach than just any another muse.

Throughout the 2000s, Banner always came off as an aggressive MC and expert beat maker who can make a hit record with just one finger. Since releasing his debut solo album Them Firewater Boyz Vol 1, the “Like A Pimp” creator didn’t seem to have trouble churning out memorable albums like Certified in 2005, The Greatest Story Ever Told in 2008, and Death Of A Pop Star alongside the likes of the late Pimp C and the legendary 9th Wonder. After establishing his career in film in 2010, Banner attempted to set the bar higher for his music career by dropping off his mixtape Sex, Drugs, & Video Games back in 2012. With Chris Brown, A$AP Rocky, Bun B, Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz and more on the tracklist, one would think that he would be overjoyed at the outcome of his independent project.

Not quite.

Banner admits he was deeply depressed while recording the mixtape. So much so that even his doctor once told him that his soul would die if he didn’t make any changes in his life. Not only did he discover meditation, but he also found and made peace with God. He began to use his voice for more than just spitting gritty rhymes about social injustice. He became an advocate for humanity. Along with ridding himself of the drugs and his other sins, the “Get Like Me” rapper decided to make an ultimate change to his life.

READ: David Banner Addresses FOX, CNN, & ‘Crooked Police’ On “Who Want It”

Without making any kind of social media announcement or press release, Banner lowkey quit the rap game. In fact, he wiped out his entire library of music. Every song, reference track, and beat he ever made was sent to the trashcan. Naturally, he freaked out as any musician who loses their entire catalog would, but instead, he started fresh and started his career in music from scratch, which is how the The God Box came to be.

“It didn’t come from an angry perspective,” Banner told VIBE. “Of course I’m an alpha male and well over 6 feet tall. I don’t take nobody’s shit so people are taking it as aggressive because I’m a grown ass man who’s not a comedian. But it doesn’t come from an angry place; it comes from a factual place.”

Instead of being enclosed in his office walls, Banner wandered around the great outdoors and spoke with us about how he turned his life around during his unofficial hiatus, how he got the idea of The God Box, why he decided to turn the album into an art exhibit and more.

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It's been 7 years since your last album with 9th wonder and at least 5 since your Sex, Drugs and Video Games mixtape. Given the completely opposite tones of each album, what did you go through within those 5-7 years that lead up to the creation of The God Box?

I went through two severe depressions. I think that those were really the major changes in my life. You know ups and downs just in life in general. To totally be free of any major corporation except my multimedia company. I have clients but I’m not ruled by anybody.

That’s why you chose to release the album independently?

100%. You know a lot of people say that they're independent but still get an advance. You understand what I’m saying? There’s a level of freedom but there's also a level of confidence and self-esteem that a person must have because so many people say that they love hip-hop but not a lot of people will put money into it. I dumped over $100,000 into the album me and 9th Wonder did. I dumped well over six figures into this album trying to do something different. Those 7 years I took off gave me an opportunity to get my heart broken, to go through shit, to accomplish and be able to say I did all the music at the World Cup for Gatorade. I’ve been very, very, very, VERY high up and some pretty major lows. This is almost like a first album especially nowadays when people will put their whole life on they first album. They may have topics that have wide ranges as they pertain to the subject matter but people can feel when it's artificially inseminated. I had an opportunity to live.

When was the moment that made you want to pull yourself out of your depression?

I think it was when my doctor in Mississippi told me ‘David Banner, I’m not a holistic doctor, but I can look into your eyes and tell that your soul is dying.’ I went to the doctor feeling like I was dying. I took like a thousand dollars worth of tests and the only thing that came back was my cholesterol was slightly high. She told me that if I don’t change something about my life that I’m going to die. My spirit was gone. That’s when I said at this point in my career, it’s about doing the things that make me feel good like fighting for my people or fighting for melanated or African people who are being treated the same all over the world. Dark-skinned people all over the world are being treated the same and have historically been treated the same. So if I have an opportunity to shed some light on that and help people to at least consider what is going on not just in American but globally. There’s nothing in the world that feels better than helping people, bro. There are so many people that told me this album brought them light. There are people telling me they are meditating to the outro of my album.

I can tell why. What kind of place were you in when you decided you wanted to include that as the outro? No other rapper does that.

Well, I do transcendental meditation. I meditate two times a day or at least I try to. It changed my whole entire life. If there’s anything or any gift that I could give to the world, it would be transcendental meditation. What’s funny is that was supposed to be the intro. What I realized was that #1 the things she’s saying, it would take people to have gone through the entire journey of the album to really respect it. If they had gotten that, all in the beginning, they would’ve been like, “WTF is this shit?” But when they had an opportunity to go through the whole journey and then they’ll understand what she’s talking about. So I moved the intro to be the outro and it made so much more sense.

I wanted to take people to another place with this album even though it’s deeply centered in the world that’s going on today, especially musically. I’m being honest with you, bro, every fucking beat, every lyric on this album, we combed through it with a fine-tuned comb and made sure there wasn't any wack shit on it. We really went through this album so that if people denied me this time, it’s because they just don’t like it. They can’t say its wack. They can’t say it ain’t jamming.

The God Box comes off like a soundtrack to a full-length feature film thanks to endings like "My Uzi." What inspired you to do that?

On “My Uzi,” that was a real composition at the end. John Debney who did Iron Man 2 and the Passion of the Christ actually made that composition. That’s not a sample. I’ve always wanted to do that. People don’t understand that I score movies, video games and commercials myself. I know that a lot of my beats are space-aged. People tell me that all the time so I wanted to make the closest thing to what people think a David Banner beat used to be and I think “My Uzi” is the closest thing to a stereotypical David Banner beat. Then there’s UGK on the hook so it went deep off in the hood. I got Big K.R.I.T on that bitch so it’s 10x south because its Mississippi, Mississippi, and Texas. Oh shit! And just when people thought this was as hood as we can get, we took em to never, Neverland. I wanted to take people somewhere else to gain their trust, and that’s the blessing of being a musician. Even if it was only in a dream or a song, I just wanted to take our people back or take our people somewhere that they’ve never been before.

Speaking of which, in "Amy" you layout your view on the n-word yet the word still manages to pop up elsewhere on the album from other artists like Cee-Lo Green in "Magnolia." How did that make you feel? Do you think hip-hop will ever stop using the word?

This is what I’ll say. You have to look at the context in which Cee-Lo used it. When he used it, Cee-Lo was saying that although this man felt like just because he married a white woman and just because he had a white man’s job that they still look at him as just being a n*gga. I don’t have a problem with the word. I have a problem with the word “n*gga” being used as a blanket term to describe my people. A “nigger” is someone who is ignorant. Anybody could be a “nigger” and the sad part is we have accepted it. See I believe that the most high, God, whatever you may call he she or it, gave us the similar power as the Almighty has and that means that you are what you think. I read a book called As A Man Thinking by James Allen. He said (and I’m paraphrasing) there were two men and one thought he was nothing while the other thought he was everything, and they both were right. So if you say you're a n*gga and think you're a n*gga, then you are a n*gga. If you say you're a god and know how to be a god and act accordingly, then you are. Because you’re made out of the same matter as the Most High is. God is infinitely everything so what I’m saying is we have to consider what we say.

READ: David Banner Thinks Donald Trump’s Win May Be The Best Thing For Black People

Once you decided to get back into the game, how exactly did you get the title The God Box?

The meaning for The God Box actually grew from me naming the hard drive when I first started recording it. I couldn’t figure out what I was going to call it. I don’t know why I put so much thought into such a small thing but I was like “yo what could I call the hard drive?” Then I was like “I’m going to call it "The God Box." As I started recording and learning more, it started making sense. I was like ‘Yo this is directly correlated with my life.’ To be honest with you, when I found out where God was my life became so much easier. The panic in my life slowed down. I believe that if people study the cover of my album and they really listen to the album I think they will find out what it took me all of these years to learn. Maybe they can learn it in a 50-minute sitting.

That’s deep man. It’s crazy how everything snowballed into such an expressive album over the years. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that it’s your greatest masterpieces thus far.

Oh yeah! But I want to show you something that’s really funny. People are so fu**ing surprised that I made this level of an album but what I don’t understand is that people act like you’re supposed to get dumber the more you record or as you get older. I fu**ing study. I fu**ing practice. What’s crazy is I’ve always been getting better. I don’t give a fu** what nobody say. When I dropped Sex, Drugs, and Video Games that shit was so--- I was in my depression when I recorded it. After I got done with that album, I erased my whole hard drive with all of my music because I said I didn’t want to do that kind of music anymore.

Wow.

I was freaking out a little bit like I wished I hadn’t erased it but I always looked at it like this. I’ve been growing. I believe that every album I’ve been growing. It’s just that in a lot of cases, people don’t want to admit this sometimes, it’s not that the artists isn’t jamming but sometimes you just don’t understand. Maybe it wasn’t that my raps were wack maybe it’s because they went over your fucking head. Maybe you’re the person who’s got the problem. And because we’re from the south, if there’s 808’s and there’s a southern drawl, people stop listening. I was drunk, high, and depressed but I’ve always been a writer.

I just want to thank everybody for allowing me to grow. There’s not too many artists that the general public allows to grow. They grow with them. So if I don’t beat on my chest, ain’t nobody going to listen because most people are afraid. What they’ll tell me is ‘David Banner this is your best album ever.’ Nah this is one of the best albums ever out of anybody. If I don’t say it, I know they not going to say it. That’s one of the reasons why I really appreciate Charlamagne. I don’t know why that man has been going so hard for me. He went on Joe Budden’s show and said, "David Banner has one of the best albums in recent history period out of everybody." He didn’t have to say that so I left my house and went to the bookstore and bought every book that was in that motherfucker! Also, I want people to get the physical copy because a lot of people don’t know that this album is an art exhibit too.

There’s definitely a lot that went into the physical copy. Explain how you pieced all of that together.

Well, it was because of a young man named Manzel Bowman. This dude is so ill. I don’t know what he’s smoking or if his ancestors blessed him. He’s sort of like afro-futurism. He gets African history and the space-aged future and I don’t know man. He just puts it all together in something that the kids can love because he’s a millennial. He puts all of this together and it’s fucking amazing. He sent me a couple of things and then he did the cover for me. I was like ‘yo what if we do a physical representation for every song on the album?” He was like, 'Bet.' I paid him and he did it and I decided to turn it into an art exhibit and hopefully soon I'll turn it into a coffee table book.

#theGodbox #theGodboxboxes to order Email [email protected] jasmine will send you the invoice

572 Likes, 17 Comments - David Banner - Batiany (@davidbannerlikespictures) on Instagram: "#theGodbox #theGodboxboxes to order Email [email protected] jasmine will send you..."

I was hoping for at least one blatant shot at President Trump on the album, but I didn’t catch any. Any thoughts on "Agent Orange?"

This album was recorded before Trump became president. There were only a few songs. “Magnolia” and “Who Want It” and “Cleopatra Jones” were the only songs that were recorded after Trump. The truth is Trump isn’t a big problem to me. People of color are complaining about Trump, but America has always been racist. I’m actually grateful that he’s exposing it and giving liberal white people less of an excuse to say that America is post-racial.  Shit didn't happen for black people when Obama was president and shit didn’t happen for black people when Trump was president. To me, Trump isn’t even worth a conversation. I think if anything he taught black people that shit ain’t going to happen unless we do it for ourselves. It’s just a game man. I refuse to play into it. I want our people to own something.

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Meet Koffee, The Rising Jamaican Star Who Is Hot Like A Thermos

Back in 1962, a 17-year-old Jamaican singer/songwriter named Robert Marley recorded a song called “One Cup of Coffee” and went on to take reggae music around the world. Fast forward 55 years to 2017, when a 17-year-old Jamaican singer/songwriter named Koffee dropped her first record, “Burning,” setting her on a path to become the most talked-about new artist in dancehall reggae right now.

Koffee got her big break when veteran singer Cocoa Tea invited her onstage at the January 2018 edition of Rebel Salute, Jamaica’s biggest roots reggae festival. “She name Koffee and me name Tea,” he quipped, calling her the “next female sensation out of Jamaica.” The artist born Mikayla Simpson doesn’t actually like coffee though—she prefers hot chocolate.

After graduating from Ardenne High, the same school dancehall star Alkaline attended, Koffee turned her focus to music. She shot a live video with new roots superstar Chronixx at Marley’s Tuff Gong Studios, then dropped her breakout single “Toast,” produced by Walshy Fire of Major Lazer fame. That video has racked up 10 million+ views and made the artist, who stands just over five feet tall, a very big name on the island. Now signed to Columbia UK, Koffee will release her debut EP Rapture next month.

“Mi only spit lyrics, don't really talk a lot,” she states on the track “Raggamuffin.” But when Koffee turned up to VIBE’s Times Square headquarters, bundled up against NYC’s February chill in a hoodie, thermals, and Nike x Off-White sneakers, she opened up about her musical journey, the power of gratitude, her surprising inspirations, and how she plans to spend her birthday.

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VIBE: I haven’t seen you since your EP listening in Kingston. Congratulations on an impressive body of work. Koffee: Thank you. I feel humble and proud at the same time. I really put a lot of thought into the EP, the way I structured it, and the content, the lyrics. It really means a lot to me, so I appreciate you saying that.

It’s amazing how much you’ve accomplished since Cocoa Tea brought you out on Rebel Salute. Yeah, and that was only a year and a month ago!

So how did the link with Cocoa happen? Actually, it happened through Walshy Fire. After my very first single “Burning,” Walshy reached out and sent me some riddims, in hopes of us working together, which we ended up doing. We were supposed to meet up at a studio in Florida and when we went there Cocoa Tea was already in the building. We were like, “Wow, Cocoa Tea!” Because Cocoa Tea is a reggae legend for us in Jamaica. Walshy actually introduced Cocoa to some of my music, and Cocoa was like, “Wha? Mi gonna bring her out on Rebel Salute next month!” This was in December, and Rebel Salute was in January.

Timing is everything. Rebel Salute made a huge difference. It opened me up to a lot of opportunities. Even today a lot of places that I go, people remember me from there. I was doing music before. I’d done a few shows here and there, but the audience at Rebel Salute is very important. It’s an epic stage to present yourself.

Were you nervous? Just before going out on the stage I was backstage pacing back and forth. I was trying to keep warm as well because it was chilly that night. But I was really nervous because it was my first time being in such a light.

Do you think being so young has helped you? Like, you may not overthink everything. I think you have a point. Because I’m young, my mind is a bit more pure, or uncorrupted. Experiences do have a way of taking away your mental space and the things you’re willing to try. Staying in “the comfort zone” is the most comfortable thing, but sometimes pushing yourself to step outside of that will help you overcome your fears. That, and just the drive and motivation. I definitely try to keep challenging myself.

Reggae has always been a male-dominated industry, but female artists are definitely on the rise. How do feel getting catapulted into that category? I feel like it’s a big responsibility, and “to whom much is given, much is expected.” So I don't look at it as, “Oh, I’ve made it.” But I acknowledge that I’m in a position where I have a responsibility now to fulfill and to pull through. It just pushes me to work harder, make more things happen, and just keep it going.

I love the line in your song “Raggamuffin” where you say, “Mi give them heart attack inna mi halter back.” Was that inspired by Althea & Donna’s “Uptown Top Rankin’” from the ‘70s? Yeah, I love that song. That’s the thing, I would say that every artist is an influence to me. Growing up, I would hear these songs being played by people next door, down the road, all around. Just in the Jamaican environment on a whole. So those songs definitely do have an influence on me, the messages from those times. Once you hear it, it’s in your head. You know it now and it really makes a difference in how you think, how you speak, and everything.

When people think of a female dancehall artist they usually think of colorful hair, long nails… But you seem to have your own swag. How would you describe your style? I would definitely say unique, but at the same time, it is natural to me and not calculated. I don't put a name to it and say, “I’m gonna be this way.” I just kind of flow and whatever you see is me doing what I feel. Like, I’m not sure what these pants are, but I bought them in Berlin. I got this hoodie in the UK—I’m not sure what brand this is either. I was just trying to keep warm. My friend Ayesha from the UK styled me with this top recently for a shoot.

There’s a line on “Burning” where you talk about “Koffee pon di street, tank top inna di heat / Jeans pants an’ Crocs / No socks pon mi feet / Knapsack mi a beat / Well pack up an’ it neat.” Was that your real-life dress code in 2017? Yeah, I remember at that time that’s how I used to roll. You know in Jamaica it’s hot, so I probably had my tank top and my jeans on, or my shorts. And I had this one pair of grey Crocs that I just wore everywhere. And I always have my knapsack. So yeah, that was my reality at that moment.

How far away does that feel, now that you have a stylist and travel the world? That’s amazing. It’s a transition that’s really beautiful and something I really appreciate.

I have a feeling you’re going to re-introduce words like “appreciate” and “give thanks” into pop culture. I hope to start a wave of gratitude. Even by writing that song “Toast,” when I say “We haffi give thanks like we really supposed to,” it reminds me to be grateful. I aspire to be humble and I pray and ask God to help me be grateful. I try to maintain it and I hope that will inspire other people to do the same.

Let’s talk about “Toast.” On the chorus, you say “We nah rise and boast.” But then again, a lot of reggae and dancehall artists are very “boasy.” That’s part of the culture. When I say “Wi nah rise and boast” it means that no matter what happens along the journey, we’re still gonna remain the same. We gonna big up we friend and hold a vibes. I’m just making it clear that we never come fe hype.

You can spit pretty fast, but I feel like some people may be missing some of the things you say. But if you listen carefully you’re talking about real things. Thank you for noticing that. When I wrote “Raggamuffin,” a lot of my musical influence came from artists like Protoje and Chronixx. Chronixx has basically been an advocate for the youths, so his message had an impact on me. When I was vibing to the beat, I wanted to cover myself, cover my country where I come from, good things and bad things, and the music, reggae itself.

Growing up, did you see inner city kids not being looked after by their own government and their own people? Most definitely. I wouldn't say that the government is responsible for the lives of everybody as citizens. But there are some general things that need the government’s attention and they don't pay the attention that they should. They'd rather focus on things that can garner income. There are roads that need to be fixed in places that tourists don't necessarily visit. And nobody cares about those roads. Minor injustices, major injustices—just things that really need to be spoken about so that people can think about it and look into it.

BDP used the term Edutainment—education and entertainment. Is that something you present in your music? Yes, it’s definitely something I aim for. I think that it’s important to keep people interested enough to want to absorb what you are saying. And then it’s equally important to present something that is worth absorbing. Something productive, something inspiring, motivating. Just mixing both so that you have their attention and you’re also delivering something that’s worth their attention.

You were still in school when you did your song “Burning.” As a new artist did you have to convince the producers to work with you? Gratefully, no I didn't have to convince them. Because I did a tribute to Usain Bolt before that. I wrote a song with my guitar titled “Legend” and posted a video of me performing it with my guitar on Instagram.

Usain came across it and reposted it, so that garnered a lot of attention. People from the music industry reached out to me, and in that group of people was Upsetta records with their Ouji Riddim. They sent it to my first manager like, “Let’s see what she can do” and so forth.

There’s this thing in Jamaica called Sixth Form. It’s like you graduate high school and there’s an extra two years that you can do as like a pre-college. I applied for it and didn’t get through. Right after that, I did the tribute to Usain Bolt and then Upsetta sent me the Ouji Riddim. I was in a state of mind where I felt disappointed. I felt the need to motivate myself, so I was like “Come with the fire the city burning!”

How does your mom feel about all of this? I started writing lyrics at 14 years old, but she didn't find out until I was 16, when she saw me perform at a competition in school. I invited her there and she was taken aback, like, “Wow! So this what you've been doing?” (Laughs) She wanted me to do academics like every parent wants. And she was little disappointed when I didn't get through to Sixth Form. But over time, as I wrote more and performed more, she began to trust my talent and just trust the process. So she started appreciating the music and now she's fully on board.

What did your mother think of “dancehall pon the street,” like you sing about in your song “Raggamuffin”? As you know I’ve been living with mommy since I was a baby up until I was 17, so being under her roof I didn't go out much. I was always in the house just chilling and stuff. I know that there’s a dance on like every corner. lf you are driving, you always hear music playing. You have the oldies dancehall, you have the new dancehall—everybody just hold a vibe. That’s basically where that line comes from.

Do you go to dances now? I’ve been going to a few parties and getting out, but I haven't been to like a dance dance. I’ve been to Dub Club, you get some really good music there. But Dub Club is like a relaxed kinda vibe.

You recently performed at Bob Marley’s 74th birthday celebration in Kingston. Do you still listen to his music? Most definitely! Bob has set such a great and amazing foundation for the music, the industry, the genre itself, the country, the youth... He’s set such a great example that you haffi really learn from it and take a lot from it so that you know where you’re coming from. You haffi understand how to execute in honor of such people.

What are some of your favorite Bob songs? Well, I performed “Who the Cap Fit” that night, so that’s one of my favorites. And I like “Is This Love” and “Natural Mystic.” That’s just a few.

I know that’s a hard question. What about a dancehall legend like Super Cat? Hmm… “Mud Up” woulda be my favorite Super Cat.

Really?! Yeah, because of the flow he has on it, not necessarily the content. See, I’m from Spanish Town. Jamaicans on a whole, we like vibes. We like lyrics that, as we would say, “it slap!” It touches you, and really hits that spot. So I listen to a lot of different things, and the lyrics that I listen to aren't always conscious. But what I derive from music is not necessarily the message. Sometimes the flow that you’re hearing, that’s the wave for the moment. It may not be the best for the youth, but that’s what people like to vibe to. So you take that vibe, put a positive message to it, and that’s the spin. So I listen very widely.

One of my favorite songs on your new EP is the “Rapture” remix. It was dope that you got together with Govana on that. When I first wrote “Rapture,” Govana had recently done a song called “Bake Bean” that took off in Jamaica. When him drop that, it’s like the flow really resonate with me. I was like, “This is dope.” So when I did “Rapture” I was listening back to it and thought I should probably try to get Govana on this track. And it turned out so sick!

That’s cool to have the credibility where other artists respond to you like that. Because I'm sure it’s not always that easy. No, it’s not always easy. Me haffi give thanks for the way people have been responding.

So no one has kissed their teeth and said, “Nah man”? (Laughs) No, not yet. (Laughs) But what I have to appreciate is just when another artist really listens and pays attention. Sometimes an artist can be good and they don't get the response or the attention that they deserve. Some people don't want to listen, so I give a lot of respect to who is willing to listen.

Well Govana has given you that “crown” in his verse, which reminds me—how did the song “Throne” come about? I remember Walshy sent me that riddim in the first batch of riddims that he sent me. The riddim for “Toast” was also in that batch, but I started with “Throne.” It was basically like a challenge for me. I was like “How am I gonna spit on this?” Because the riddim sounded so dynamic. I was like “mi haffi mash this up!” Hence the fast spit-fire kind of vibe.

What music are you currently listening to on your phone? I don’t listen to my own songs that much. I’m vibing to Mr Eazi. I’ve been going in on the Afrobeats. Burna Boy. Smino the rapper. And I’ve been going in even more on Bob Marley.

Well, it’s reggae month right now. So there’s lots of legendary birthdays—Bob Marley, Dennis Brown. That makes the month even more significant! By the way, I’m born in February also. (Laughs) February 16th.

Happy Earthstrong! Were you keeping that quiet? I just remembered. I’ll be 19!

Wow—you’re gonna be out of the teens soon. What you gonna do on your 19th birthday? Wowwwww—I dunno. I’m gonna see when I get to Jamaica which party. I’ll probably just try and go to a dance or something. That ah go be mad!

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Solitary Alignment: 5 Self-Affirming Reads For Single Ladies On Valentine’s Day

Ahh, the Feast of Saint Valentine—the Hallmark holiday that strikes us with its arrow each year, for better or for worse, depending on your bae status. While the romantic holiday is adored and celebrated by many, if you’re still reeling over, say, your ex’s refusal to commit, chances are Feb. 14 is more of a heartache for you than anything.

But as a wise woman once said, “If they liked it then they should’ve put a ring on it.” So whether V-Day has you scared of lonely or sulking over a lost love, as another wise woman once said, they “would be SUPER lucky to even set eyes on you this Valentine’s Day. That’s it. That’s the gift.” Shout out to The Slumflower.

Sure, having a bae on Valentine’s Day is cool, but so is reminding yourself why you’re just fine without one (cue Webbie’s “Independent”). In fact, single folks have better relationships overall, according to the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. You know how the old adage goes: love yourself before loving someone else.

For this Valentine’s Day, VIBE Vixen rounds up a nourishing list of books for our sisters doin’ it for themselves. Consider this your reminder of how badass you are—because you are! Oh, oh, oh. *Beyoncé voice*

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Johnny Nunez

'So Far Gone': Re-Reviewing Drake's Iconic Mixtape 10 Years Later

“Draaaake?! Draaaake?! Aubrey Graham in a wheelchair... Draaaake?!”

Soulja Boy’s viral rant, while hilarious to 15 million viewers who watched The Breakfast Club interview, seems almost silly to contemplate now in a musical climate so easily dominated by the OVO frontrunner. But in 2009, at the release of Drake’s breakout mixtape, So Far Gone, Soulja’s questions of Drake’s influence and placement on the hip-hop spectrum actually mimicked the inquiries fans may have been asking at the time. Even Drizzy seemed to share those same contemplations on the project as he reflected his newfound stardom and the future that would unfold as a result.

So Far Gone, however, diminished those ounces of doubt. Ten years later, the 18-track project still comes together as one of the most cohesive mixtapes of this decade and has become the building block to one of the sturdiest foundations of a hip-hop artist to date. Revisiting So Far Gone and taking its temperature anew, we get a glimpse of how the personas of the emotional rapper came to be such inescapable and successful forces within the music industry at that time.

 

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@futuretheprince a decade ago you were Dj’ing all ages [email protected] a decade ago you were scared to share your [email protected] a decade ago you worked at a clothing store selling someone else’s [email protected] a decade ago you were in a basement with pink insulation walls figuring out fruity [email protected] a decade ago we were handing out flyers promoting club [email protected] a decade ago you were working the makeup counter at Beverly [email protected] a decade ago your moms house was my safe place and we really ran through the 6 everyday [email protected] a decade ago you were a legend and you will remain that [email protected] a decade ago you promoted me as if you were getting a cut of my [email protected] a decade ago you were the first person to recognize potential and give me a [email protected] a decade ago you came to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and laid a verse for an unknown artist from [email protected] a decade ago you emailed me the cover art for something that would change my life [email protected] a decade ago you came to my release party at 6 Degrees and made me the biggest artist in the city off your presence [email protected] a decade ago I rapped over your beat cause you just made the best shit and even though you stay wildin on twitter these days I will never forget what you contributed to the game and my career...Portia I don’t know your IG but a decade ago you told me to rap over June 27th and bonded me and Houston Texas [email protected] a decade ago you took a chance on MySpace and introduced me to [email protected] a decade ago you took me out of Toronto and gave me the biggest blessing anybody has ever given me...I will never forget anybody involved in this journey even if you don’t fit in this caption...So Far Gone streaming everywhere for the first time ever Thursday. 🙏🏽

A post shared by champagnepapi (@champagnepapi) on Feb 13, 2019 at 3:27am PST

With his follow-up to Comeback Season (2007), Drake interrupted the hip-hop landscape with introspective songs that played up relationships instead of violence and street life through a healthy mix of confident raps and charming vocals. The idea of “emotional rapping” was so novice that it seemed uncool or too feminine in a male-dominated genre (Lil Wayne’s No Ceilings, Nicki Minaj’s Beam Me Up Scotty, and J. Cole’s The Warm Up also created noise at the time), but Drake’s ability to reach his female audience while still resonating with the masses was irrefutable. The somber tone of “Sooner Than Later,” sung in his lower register, perfectly conveys his efforts to reach an estranged lover before she’s gone for good. “The girl or the world? / They say someone gotta lose / I thought that I can have it all, do I really got to choose,” Drake ponders on the record.

In addition to lyrical content, Drake’s audacity to sing on heavily R&B-inspired tracks is unmatched. We saw that on “Houstatlantavegas”—possibly the genesis of his infatuation with strippers (“Hey there, pretty girl/You know, exactly what you got/And I don't blame you at all/You can't resist it/Especially when the lights so bright/And the money so right/And it's comin in every single night,” he crooned)—a seductive song that listens as an open love letter to a mysterious working girl. The romanticization of this woman is reminiscent of T-Pain’s 2005 single “In Luv With a Stripper,” but it seesawed back and forth between velvety refrains and confident bars that captured the allure in a way that felt both sexy and humanizing. The girl was no longer just a stripper, but one who dreamed of making it out of her hometown.

His singing may have seemed comparable to Kanye West, who had just released his predominantly auto-tuned album 808s & Heartbreak just a year before (Drizzy actually sampled Kanye’s “Say You Will” from the same album, flipping it to be a rap track). Even so, Drake dared to pair his vocals alongside talented voices within the R&B space, proving that he could sing just as much as he could rap. “A Night Off” was an incredibly bold and ambitious move. Drake had cojones to pair his sensuous crooning with the high notes of a certified songbird like Lloyd, but somehow it worked. This was the vulnerability that would give him his “Heartbreak Drake” persona, and he won for it.

While his vulnerability would be his gateway into the industry, Drake wanted to remind fans that he was still very much a rapper and a force to be reckoned with. In comparison to “A Night Off,” Drizzy flexed his flows on “Successful,” while Trey Songz held down the chorus. The materialism that was an undeniable 2009 rap music theme stood on the forefront as the eerie harmony led into Songz’s hook, fully encapsulating the desperation of a rookie attempting to overcome struggles and bolster from nothing to everything.

A seasoned Drake would surely not equate his success to simply h*es and cars, but its message, while simple, was honest and provided insight into a naïve conversation on what fame meant to a newcomer. Drake went harder on “Uptown,” though. The rapper had no choice to flex cocky bars over the Boi-1da-produced beat in order to keep up with its A-list features, Lil Wayne and Bun B.

This reminder of Drake The Rapper was also prevalent in his sampling. He demonstrated his understanding of hip-hop’s rich history on songs like “November 18th,” where DJ Screw provided the perfect assist with a chopped and screwed sample of Kris Kross’ “Da Streets Ain’t Right” (which also borrowed from Notorious B.I.G’s 1994 single, “Warning”). Although the track held a lot of weight in its instrumentals, Drizzy forged his own story by illustrating the day Lil Wayne called him, which in turn changed the course of his fate. Likewise, a purely-rapping-no-hook Drake over Jay-Z's original “Ignorant Sh*t” on his version, “Ignant Sh*t,” is quite nice. Yes, breaking away from the usual blueprint of breaks and harmonious choruses makes it teeter on the exhausting side, but the song’s lyrical content was a time capsule of the last decade (“Rest in peace to Heath Ledger, but I’m no Joker”).

The entirety of So Far Gone set the pace for Drake’s career in the years to come, but the tape’s final track, “The Calm,” foreshadowed his position in the landscape of hip-hop the most. “Leader of the new school, it’s proven and it’s known / I’m sitting in a chair, but in the future it’s a throne,” he prophesied. The electronic and muffled beat leads in to Drake’s reflection about a sense of alienation in the industry and his personal life that surely has continued well into the 2010s. While he is now one of the most commercially sought after talents in pop culture, his artistry has often been questioned by his musical peers. But even then, like the song said, Drake has always known that things were going to work out in his favor: “Everything will be okay and it won’t even take that long.”

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